Family Testimonial

Dear Coalition for Community Living Board Members,

My mother passed away January 2001 and if only she could see my sister today she would not believe the differences and strides her daughter has made since her involvement with Fairweather Lodge. Sue as been supported emotionally and financially by the Fairweather Lodge family, along with living under one of the Fairweather Lodge’s homes from 2000-2005. This past year, Sue has taken the step to begin living by on her own and most recently Sue was also offered a position in Harrisburg, PA with the Mental Health Consumer Association. My sister is Susan Maghrak who was given an opportunity for change to better herself and her life. She was given this opportunity under the Fairweather Lodge philosophy and the Coalition for Community Living. Sue is now presently a Board Member for the Fairweather Lodge.

Sue started her journey living under Fairweather Lodge’s philosophy home by living with other consumers that had been going through some sort of psychiatric recovery themselves. But, not only living with other members under a Fairweather Lodge home Sue went under medication adjustments and followed a strict medication schedule with group checking (from other consumers she lived with) on each other to make sure each individual person were taking their medication as directed. Being a Registered Nurse, just these two areas alone I knew there would be a small ray of hope for her. The support of staff and other consumers combined with medication changes and schedules would be the beginning to give Sue much stabilization in her life to aid her in the long road ahead. Taking medications is an important roll to help any individual with mental illnesses and many other medical conditions. Medications help in reducing or preventing the risk of further complications, or even slow a disease process down, reduce anxiety or depression tendencies and give a better quality of life to individuals, consumers and residents/patients.

Sue has been given the chance to make improvements to her life, yet be supported, along with being able work with the Fairweather Lodge in the Erie, PA area. Though I have to admit things did not get instantly better, I knew in my heart there was at least a light at the end of the tunnel for Sue. Especially for my family who tried desperately so many times to help Sue by giving her direction which only usually lead to failure and frustration. Life was a struggle for Sue and especially for my mother who lived with guilt that she couldn’t help her daughter improve no matter how hard she tried to remedy the issues. Seeing her daughter with inappropriate actions and social difficulties portrayed many times was very hard for our mother. It was such a blessing when Sue was accepted in the Fairweather Lodge home and they started to assist her in her psychiatric care.

The opportunity that was ahead for Sue was a difficult task, but would have been even more difficult without the help of the Fairweather Lodge staff, other consumers and friends that Sue came to know over the years. I have seen my sister try very hard to work on understanding her mental health issues. She would even come over to my house to look up her diagnosis on the Internet and read about them. She tried to understand how the diagnosis where affecting her inner self. I believe life had gotten better for Sue in steps or in increments, she was learning about herself, experienced her own accomplishments and new behaviors over time while still battling her old behavioral habits and ways. Sue was also realizing how more acceptable she was to the family, friends and society with her own individualized improvements and accomplishments on herself. She realized during this time she needed to eliminate her old ways and move on with the new improvements. Sue was starting to feel more accepted by everyone around her. Over time Sue has put a whole colorful painting together with every new stroke that showed improvement to broaden the picture more. She has drawn together a whole new life for herself. Though it takes much dedication from the individuals themselves, I know deep in my heart Sue could have not made this accomplishment by herself. She was able to succeed with the guidance, support and rules given by the Fairweather Lodge’s philosophy, staff and other consumers. Fairweather Lodge is the means by which Sue could continue to improve her inner self, succeed in her personal life and social life. Yet have a safe place to live with people like her challenged by mental illness disabilities. Living together with other consumer’s made her life more manageable and was able to help others improve their lives too. Together each consumer’s strengths and weaknesses under the same direction and leadership of Fairweather Lodge improved everyone’s outlook on life and made it possible to function more efficiently in society.

Do I believe Sue is fully recovered from her mental health issues? I have to say, no. Sue will always have the mental illnesses that she has been diagnosed with over the years. It will have to be up to Sue to continue to take her medications routinely, look for support when she feels she is loosing control and to look at her accomplishments over the years to eliminate the fact of a set back or failure. Sue has accomplished finishing school this past year (2006) with a Associate Degree in Business Administration and Accounting along with a Associate Degree in Marketing Management. She also made a major decision in having a surgery completed that helped her loose over 130lbs. Again, I feel this truly is do to the effectiveness of the Fairweather Lodge Family/Community. This renewal of her life will be an ongoing process and I feel it to be a process where by one will continue to achieve goals and make plans to better themselves. It is my belief that Fairweather Lodge has facilitated and prepared Sue with the functional tools for success.

My mother would have great relief in knowing that Sue had been taken care of by a wonderful program that is designated for individuals who struggle with mental illnesses. You can never take away the quilt a mother feels because something is wrong with their child and wondering if they had something to do with their disabilities maternally or when they are growing up. But, I feel my mother would had been quite relieved and proud knowing Sue was being taken care of, loved and accepted for who she is. Just the very fact knowing Fairweather Lodge individuals were willing and able to look past the Sue’s mental illnesses was the first big step in Sue’s great enhancement of life. These group of individuals were willing to see the very potential that Sue had to offer to herself, family and to society.

I do not know how to express my gratitude to such a wonderful group of individuals who continue to follow Dr. George Fairweather beliefs, and have continued to pull this program off successfully. But, I do know that I must pass this experience on to others to complete the continue progression of helping others in need. My sister needed to have ownership, meaning in her life and ways to accomplish her activities of daily living. I feel that was given to her by Fairweather Lodge’s way of life. It created a greater commitment for my sister and she continues to succeed everyday with this program being available to her.

Mary Ann C. Minnis

Testimonial - Enrico J. Bianco

My journey in recovery began in August of 2004. When I started, my life was ravaged by addiction and I was completely desperate and in a depression that lasted years. At that time I did not know where or in which direction I was going. The only thing I knew was that I was heading further and further down. Everything I experienced seemed empty and hollow. Simply put, I did not know how it was going to end but it had to end. All I can tell you about that time was despite all odds I was able to ask for help. This was the key which unlocked all doors entering treatment. I was given an opportunity for change. In a few short months after detox and medication adjustments I was able to see a small ray of hope. I was then given the chance to live and work with Fairweather Lodge in Erie, PA. Things did not get instantly better. Life was a struggle and I knew that I had a long road ahead of me. As time progressed I gradually began to change. I learned things about myself, some good some bad. The opportunity that was ahead of me was a difficult task. The more work I did to understand my addictions and mental health issues the more rewards I benefited from them. As months progressed assisted by a 12 step recovery program and friends in Fairweather, life got better in stages or a little bit at a time. What I was learning and experiencing was recovery. It was like pieces of a puzzle joining together to show a greater picture. Piece by piece more was revealed, but I did not do this alone. Fairweather Lodge was the means by which I could continue my recovery, a safe place with people like me challenged by disabilities. We all get better together. That’s what I had learned, by no means is my recovery complete. I believe it to be a process where by one can achieve goals and make plans to better themselves. It is a road to travel and let the journey be your reward. In the past few months I have been challenged by many adversities. It is my belief that Fairweather Lodge has enabled and equipped me with the tools for success. I no longer feel depressed and alone and my experience in Fairweather Lodge has been life changing. I do not know how to express my gratitude but I do know that I must pass this experience on to others to complete the cycle of helping others in need.

Peer Specialist Certification in Western PA: A New Perspective on Recovery Training and Education

There is much excitement and enthusiasm generated from a new project that provides statewide certification in Pennsylvania to individuals who participate in trainings for the peer specialist initiative. In March of 2006, 20 persons who are either peer specialists or interested parties with a background in Mental Health/Substance Abuse services will attend educational sessions in peer support. This new training will consist of role playing, group activities, take-home study and examinations. The goal of this course is to successfully pass participants. All applicants receive or have received services for disabilities and plan to utilize training to assist others who wish to join in the mutual mission of recovery. Peer specialists currently employed are responsible for providing support for individuals who are seeking help and who participate in activities that focus upon empowerment and self-improvement. Some of the peer specialists who will receive training will work at Stairways Behavioral Health’s Fairweather Lodge program. One senior staff member, Robert Chandler, who works at the Training Lodge in Erie, has been a peer specialist for several years. Mr. Chandler uses his talents to elicit much needed understanding of the concepts and principles that drive the organization. “One must feel as if they belong to something bigger than themselves. Consumers need to have ownership and meaning in their daily activities. This is what creates commitment” says Chandler. When asked about upcoming opportunities in certification he states that “this is what we all have been waiting for. This training puts us all on the same page with common goals to support ourselves and others. Another Peer Specialist who works in the Youth in Transition program which opened in January of 2005 is Scott “Mugsy” Ross. Mugsy, like Robert, also views peer support as a best practice. He states, “We now have the opportunity to utilize our experiences to impact other people’s lives in a positive manner.” Who knows better how to apply common sense solutions with empathy and understanding “On my job I have the responsibility of educating young men with mental health disabilities on how to deal with every-day life.” My experience can finally serve a purpose in helping others in need. With regard to the certification process Mugsy states, “This is a golden opportunity for us to learn skills that we can directly apply and affect consumers outcomes. All of the peer specialists at Fairweather in Erie see certification as a process that holds great promise. It may well be a new way of implementing recovery principles that empower not only those directly affected by the training experience but all individuals touched by those who further it. Overall the positive attributes of the experience will result in peer specialists learning new methods, techniques and subject matter and passing that knowledge on to the consumer. Ultimately by educating peer staff in the recovery process we invest in individuals who will continue to invest in others. This “domino effect” might very well lead to an increase services provided and utilized. It also heads the direction of peers helping peers. This practice is without parallel.

Personal Testimony – Bruce Ario

I have been a client at Tasks Unlimited for over 17 years. There is no other treatment I have come across or could conceive of coming across that has been more effective in helping me with my diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder. The path has been one of alleviation of my symptoms and the carving out of a social role in society that is acceptable to me and society.

My life was not always acceptable. I lost three jobs in quick succession before coming to Tasks. My ideas were extremely grandiose. Friends were disappearing fast. Although I had a college degree and two years of law school, my future was turning bleak.

Thank goodness I was able to turn to Tasks Unlimited. I think that now, but it was with some reluctance that I came to the program. It would mean I would have to go through a rigorous training program earning less than minimum wage. Then I would be a janitor starting out little better than minimum wage.

But I was thankful I had a roof over my head in the form of a lodge, a Tasks group home. It wasn’t long before I really began to appreciate my lodgemates and the way they gave me support and kept me in line.

On the jobsite I became a lead worker and a van driver. Then I became a marketing assistant. Later on I became the editor of the company newsletter. I was still hoping to do something besides janitor work when Tasks opened their first mailroom and made me supervisor. Then a second and third mailroom came along. Now I supervise two mailrooms in downtown St Paul – the IRS and Army Corp of Engineers. In fact, my coordinator calls me “Mr. Mail”.

I’ve experienced disenfranchisement, homelessness, and jail as the result of my illness. The way society dealt with me was worse than the illness itself. Finally at Tasks I’ve found people who are willing and able to look past the illness to see the potential that the illness just couldn’t take away.

Kyle S. Testimonial

First off, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to TSI for giving me the opportunity to be a resident at the FWL. I became a resident in November 2011. Before that, I had been living in a personal care home on the other side of town. My mental health issues and my addiction took me to this place after living on the streets for nearly 2 years. I was very ill at this time, physically and emotionally, and I didn’t even know what spiritually bankrupt was.

With the help of my Service Coordinator (whom I believe God put in my life) I was interviewed for the FWL. About a week later, I was asked by the Coordinator if I’d like to distribute candy on Halloween night with the other members of the lodge. I gladly said yes! Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. The next day, she asked me if I’d like to be a member of the lodge. I quickly said yes again!

Upon my arrival, I was shown the house and my bedroom. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the home is. I opened my closet and was astounded because it was larger than the one I once lived in in a crack house – and pay $150 to do so too. Back in those days, FWL was only a dream to me that could never come true.

I entered a home which is conducive to my drug and alcohol and mental health recovery. I’ve had my struggles with both since living here, but with the support of my team, including my therapist, Service Coordinator, and FWL Coordinator, I am growing both emotionally and spiritually and I try to be a great friends and to help my FWL brothers in their journey too. I attend 12 step meetings regularly and go to therapy twice monthly. I also meet with the FWL Coordinator once or twice a week for medication checks, and to work on coping skills.

I call the FWL my home now. I’m so blessed to be a resident here. I have responsibilities to myself and others. I’m actually growing up now. I’ve learned the art of compromise as before it was my way or no way. I’ve learned to love myself and others again, and learning what it means to be a true friend. I feel that without the wonderful opportunity of being a FWL member, I would have returned to the streets again. That used to be the only way I knew how to live. Now, I am learning what it means to live in society as a responsible, productive member – and not a detriment. I make a daily commitment to be “all in” for my recovery.

Dennis O'Neill’s Testimonial

I moved into the lodge in April 2011. Before moving here, I didn’t know where I was headed, or what I was going to do with myself. I was homeless and living in a halfway house and working on staying clean and sober. When I first moved in, I was a bit apprehensive moving into a strange neighborhood with a complete stranger. I had no job and was living off of the state welfare amount of $202.00/month and food stamps. It was just the two of us in the beginning. After being here for a while I started to get used to the neighborhood and my lodge mate. In a few months’ time, we had another lodge mate move in and things started to gel. We had our disagreements and some fights, but we always managed to work them out in some way. The Lodge Coordinator assisted us in resolving some of these issues, and also helped us to develop rules and expectations about what it meant to live here and be a productive member of the lodge.

Taking on the responsibility of budgeting the household expenses and learning to live within the small means I had was difficult at times. I managed to get two part time jobs after being here for about six months; both were a result of potential businesses the Lodge was exploring. This helped structure my time and alleviate some of my depression by giving me money in my pocket. I took pride in having those jobs too. Currently, I am the House Treasurer.

The lodge is launching into another business venture and that will take some time to get up and running but it’s important to me to have work. Work gives me a sense of purpose and meaning and to be a partial business s owner is great responsibility and a source of pride for me.

Learning to live with other people has been one of the greatest challenges for me. I was used to having my own home, and a wife, and kids. Now, I was faced with living with up to three other men, all who had their own ideas, and ways of doing things. It was hard for me to let go of the “in charge” mentality and learn to be more flexible and understanding of other people. Reflecting back on it now, I believe I have mellowed a great deal. My close friendship with one of my current lodge mates has helped me to do that, as has conversations with the Lodge Coordinator and other members. My lodge mates have become like brothers to me, we support one another during rough times. I receive support from all of them to keep growing.

While living here, I have improved my relationships with my two daughters and grandson. I have gotten a membership at the local YMCA and am looking forward to going there often. I bought myself a bike and ride the local rail trail a few times a month. The neighborhood Starbucks has become my daily habit and I enjoy going shopping around town. I’ve amassed a huge CD and movie collection, and took on a hobby of building model cars. This place is my home and I feel a sense of safety and comfort here that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

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